Zeebra

Anthology

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Zeebra is one of the longest lasting figures in Japanese hip-hop, hanging around since its inception with the group King Giddra and continuing to evolve his own sound over the years to cover every major movement of rap in the country. 2008's Anthology, in turn, covers Zeebra's development from a young socially conscious rapper in the early '90s to a major solo star by 2000, to a position as a full leader of the Japanese hip-hop movement. As a result, the anthology not only covers Zeebra's development, but the development of hip-hop as a whole in Japan. The first disc covers his early years as a solo artist, with more of an emphasis on lyrical delivery and composition. There's a strong element of the gangsta rap and New Jack styles inherent along the way in the backing beats, but Zeebra remains relatively soft-spoken, not yet using the full breadth of his signature gruff vocals. At this point, the purpose of the music is to deliver his lyrics and pass a message along. It's a relatively mainstream sound, but hip-hop had yet to garner much attention outside of the core audiences. With pieces like "Mr. Dynamite" however (which was the first to crack the pop charts in Japan), Zeebra's gruffer, more DMX-style deliveries were becoming standard affectations, adding a stronger power scale to the proceedings, and freestyles were still common. As he developed into a larger star, Zeebra began spending more time on his own productions (and that of other artists), and from the point of "Mr. Dynamite" onward, there's less of a nostalgic sense in the beats and a more forward-looking stance, though his skills hadn't solidified entirely yet. Also as he developed into a larger star, Zeebra moved in the direction of American rappers, focusing more on the standard money and women lyrics and reducing the power of his lyrics -- the age-old style vs. substance debate that had plagued Zeebra, and to which fans responded divisively. There's plenty of decent work in the later portion of the Anthology, despite claims that Zeebra had sold out, including a nice collaboration with Jesse from Rize, "Not Your Boyfriend" and the excellent track "Bushido," released later than the albums from which the rest of the tracks were culled. The third disc of the anthology contains only collaborations, all well-picked and showing off some exceptional angles of Zeebra's abilities, from an outstanding track with King Giddra's brief reunion to the gruff-vs-soft dynamic of a track with Namie Amuro. Zeebra may be controversial in hip-hop circles, but he's still the standard bearer for the genre in Japan, and this anthology shows off all of his qualities and failings alike, as well as those of the Japanese rap scene as a whole.